• Germany's news in English

Gysi: keeping up the family business

The Local · 14 Nov 2014, 11:00

Published: 14 Nov 2014 11:00 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The Linke, for Gysi, is the family business.

Growing up in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Gysi 's father was a promininent member of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and served as Minister of Culture.

His uncle Gottfried Lessing founded the Southern Rhodesia Communist Party in what is now Zimbabwe before joining the Communist Party in Britain.

Just don't ask about that sister who went on to become an actor and eventually left the East German state in 1985. 

Gysi's SED membership card was first stamped in 1967 at the age of 19. As the end came near, Gysi worked on the reform of the Travel Bill, whose announcement by a confused Günter Schabowski led to the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

A month later, Gysi's reformist position within the party made him a natural choice to overtake the chairmanship from Egon Krenz after the SED stepped down from its rule of East Germany.

On Sunday, 25 years after it all went down, Gysi, still key at the Linke party spawned from the SED, apologized with two other leading party comrades.

"Today we renew our apology for the past injustice and our recognition that we must guard democracy and the rule of law jealously."

It was in response to the 4,000 people in Erfurt who protested the coming Red-Red-Green coalition that would put a Linke party politician in charge.

The demonstration prompted federal Green party chief Katrin Göring-Eckhardt to say "Without an apology to its victims, the Left cannot rule."

Days before, singer Wolf Biermann dedicated a song to the Linke where he called the party "dragon spawn" and "rotting vermin".

Gysi has remained at the forefront of the party as it evolved from the SED to the Party of Democratic Socialism until the they joined with upstart party The Electoral Alternative (WASG) and renamed themselves to simply Die Linke, or The Left.

It is through his long-time involvement that Gysi, now parliamentary leader for his party, faces most controversy.

Numerous people have come forward alleging that the politician colluded with the East German secret police, the Stasi, during his time as a lawyer, when he represented high profile political dissidents like Bärbel Poppe and Robert Havemann.

Gysi has challenged all the allegations in court and none of them have stuck.

And despite the allegations and the persistent bitter taste the word Stasi leaves in the collective German mouth, Gysi continues to be re-elected.

It probably helps that he has always maintained his status as a party critic. 

Story continues below…

He has criticised the East German government, once saying "the [Berlin] Wall was nothing but stupidity." He defended Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself born in the GDR, when a book accused her of being an informatnt for the SED.

And above all, he maintains that he's honest: "I am really not a trickster," he said in a 1994 Spiegel interview.

He also manages to put on a good show. After being chased into a toilet by two crtics of the Israeli state, he told a journalist "I would rather not report to you over my visits to the toilet."

It was just enough to make the press forget that on the Friday before, he took a speech that was supposed to be about the fall of the wall and instead reminded everyone that there are still discrepancies in East and West German pensions.

A sign of a true politician.

SEE ALSO: Can 'sorry' ever be enough for Die Linke?

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd